A poetic rebel

Ghalib’s life was not just of a poet but that of a rebel. The poet is known as much for his eccentric personality as he is for his poetry. Author Hasan Abdullah in his book ‘The Evolution of Ghalib’, delves deep into the life of the poetic genius, observes Humra Quraishi


The very title of this volume- The Evolution of Ghalib, carries the crux. True, we, the Ghalib lovers can recite his verse or rattle details of his life and times, but, would be unsure how this poetic genius evolved. Author Hasan Abdullah has focused exactly on this in this volume.

Quite obviously this former IITianis an intense Ghalib lover to delve deep into different and varying phases and stages of Ghalib’s poetic journey so as to put across the story. To quote him from the preface, “Around a decade ago, when I, along with a friend, scanned all the available books on Ghalib in English, we were surprised that despite the vast amount of literature on his poetry, the aspect of time was missing. Even in Urdu, the solitary exception was the chronological compilation of Ghalib’s complete Urdu poetry by Kalidas Gupta Reza. However, people ignored it and continued to read the popular Diwan-e Ghalib, the selection of Ghalib’s poetry arranged according to rhyme and no litterateur ever tried to take advantage of this gold mine to have a peep into the evolution of Ghalib — as an intellectual or even as a poet. I felt that a chronological study of Ghalib’s Urdu ghazals would help in the better appreciation of his poetry and shed some light on what are, or appear to be radically divergent views. The result of my research is this book wherein I have interpreted selected couplets that are chronologically arranged, thereby revealing Ghalib’s evolution of thought.”

This brings me to write that though this book does stand out, as a researcher’s bounty, but, heavy doses of prose do came in way of the poetic verse of Ghalib. The mix and match do not tilt towards a free-flowing, relaxed read, especially for those ardent lovers of Ghalib’s verse who do not have the patience to let any of the factual details to his turbulent life and the more than turbulent times he’d lived in, come in the way.

And, though every single stage of Ghalib’s life carried his poetic genius, but,the stark traits to his personality stood out right from the very start. Known for his wit and subtle humour and defiance, one could quite easily call him a rebel poet as he defied norms, lived life according to his own terms. Honest, daring and baring, he remained unchanged right till his twilight years. To quote from this book —“in this last phase, Ghalib, the Dwindling Star, realises that he is almost exhausted, physically and mentally, but his determination remains unchanged. He says very little and has practically nothing new to add in this last decade… he remains committed to his views; and the nearness of death does not change or revise them, including those on post-death life.”

There is also certain continuity in his verse after verse on love; that quest for that longing and for that fulfilment. And, also those sorrow laden pangs that love inevitably drags along. All possible emotions relayed so very subtly and gently. To quote his verse from this volume — ‘That love is so vulnerable Ghalib brings tears to my eyes/ Whose home will its afflictions visit after I breathe my last?’

Leaving the readers with more of Ghalib’s verse, as in these harsh times all that is needed is someone out there nudging us to grasp the reality, to observe the unmasked. Remarkable it is that even after all these decades Ghalib’s verse holds each one of us!

‘The affairs of nightingale make flowers go on chuckling/
That what people perceive as love is but quirks of mind.’

‘From bonds of love I freed myself a hundred times/
But I am helpless, my heart itself is foe of freedom,’

‘Now it is me and my craving for gloom and melancholy, Ghaib/
Feeling warm greeting of worldly people heart got burnt to ashes.’